Not only is his deft touch seen across a gamut of outstanding labels, but winemaker Steve Flamsteed has shown himself to be a modest revolutionary for Victorian wine.
Winemaker Steve Flamsteed’s history is full of the character we love about wine and winemaking. He’s the ultimate polymath and Renaissance man. A trained chef and former cheesemaker, he once auditioned for circus school in France and had a stint as a restaurateur. He caught the wine bug through a chance decision to work a harvest in Beaujolais. His life weaves art, science and culture, and drawing on his experiences inevitably enhances his winemaking and the resulting wines.
Deft at his craft, Flamsteed has been equally at home producing the range of value-packed wines under the Innocent Bystander label, which was bought by Brown Brothers in April 2016, as he is honing expressions of Hawkes Bay under his Salo Wines side project.
His primary label Giant Steps has gone from part-time venture (under the watchful eye of founder and co-owner Phil Sexton) to a powerhouse, premium producer of fine Yarra Valley pinot noir and chardonnay.
Flamsteed was initially rejected from Roseworthy College’s wine course but he was determined and eventually accepted after gaining additional vocational experience. His circuitous course to the Yarra Valley came after graduation.
During his apprenticeship he was effectively taken under the wing of Denis Horgan at Leeuwin Estate, but it was not long before Hardys noticed Flamsteed’s skills. Hardys shifted the talented Flamsteed to their Yarra Burn winery in Victoria, a pivotal move that exposed the winemaker to the comprehensive breadth of Yarra Valley vineyards and wine producers.
Flamsteed’s touch is seen in an impressive tally of outstanding quality wines. His rollcall of labels now includes the freshly minted Known Pleasures and Causes & Cures. He has oscillated from household names to cult wines, plus one vermouth. Boundless energy, an eye for detail and winemaking nous are inherent.
But it’s Flamsteed’s work at Giant Steps that is his ultimate triumph. Across the board, the 2015 Giant Steps wines are, well, giant killers: superb in their expression of single sites, but produced with a derring-do for transparency or, as he calls it, “natural expression”.
It’s these stellar releases that have tipped the balance in Flamsteed’s favour and have seen him awarded the coveted Winemaker Of The Year gong in 2016, and deservedly so. The Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine judging panel was unanimous in its praise for not only the 2015 release wines, but the journey upwards from the already high benchmark of the 2014s. Flamsteed’s name had been on the short-list in previous years, but this is what made the judges sit up and take notice in 2016.
Current winemaking endeavours aside, there are also Flamsteed’s many extra-curricular activities to acknowledge. A respected judge, panel chair and chairman in the busy world of Australian wine show judging, he has reformed the judging circuit with humility and careful consideration. He has directed many to think differently about appraisal: drinkability first, fault-finding missions second. Those new to the rigmarole of wine shows look up to Flamsteed and appreciate his calm in enhancing and evolving the local wine-judging culture.
He has also played a notable role in the quiet revolution of Victorian wines, both advocating and practising more transparent farming and less-is-more winemaking. He’s a terroirist who is guiding a new generation of winemakers to appreciate and exercise attention in the vineyard before they start making their wines.
Then there’s his ongoing commitment to improving pinot noir in Australia, with duties aligned to the progressive Pinot Massif conference. Indeed, it was at an early convening of the workshop that Flamsteed met Phil Sexton.
In essence, this year's accolade rewards a broad impact on the Australian wine scene and not just a suite of wines, past and present. It’s a public outing of a modest, intelligent, quiet revolutionary who has captured our hearts and minds with his exceptional winemaking, but who is also the embodiment of the ultimate wine all-rounder. We’re lucky to have him and his wines.